Trace fossils

I have evidence of a woman
who loved me so completely,
traces of her linger in cells
that line my cheek and ear.
All the years together
we traveled, miles ribboning
behind us as if we might
outlast it all.

The whole weight of her
footprints has gone to dust,
a vessel of memory
scattered to the wind.
Boxes of letters wilt
in the attic heat.
Memory has the words.

Here is my proof,
set in a heart no one
else can ever see:

For a while we roamed
this life, one proud creature.
She fell away
I could not stay.

In the still part of night
I feel her breathe.


Bring Back Our Girls: Our Naked Mothers Walk

Our mothers walk naked through Abjua,
as if flesh that made us could rescue us.

Someone must be watching.

Our fathers, armed with love and bows
come for us, too. They know
this Sambisa forest, snakes
as lethal as these men,
who give evil to these woods.

They think I am theirs
for the taking? As if they could steal
my future, as I had not learned
to speak up, add, read, dream,
as if I had lost my voice?

Life has steeled me for men
such as these. Fear me.

I have a future, it lives
in a dream each night. The jungle
sounds frighten me, but I hear
my mother’s voice,
singing me to sleep.

I dream that I lift over these trees
and reach her, cloak us in strength,
then rise above these men,
who think nothing
of me.

I hear my father’s arrows aiming true.
My mother’s cries
surely reach the world.

Someone must be coming for us,
armies of the good,
who have no fear, who know

we girls are the pulse of the world.

Tough Love

We bury our children whole.
All the tools and love
In our hands spun out
Of our control, destroyed
What we meant to flourish.

There is no going back
From this pile of rocks
And dirt under which bright
Lives remain, suffocated and lost.

We invented our poisons
And failed to estimate
The caustic profits, unintended
Consequences, wages of pain.

We had no idea, really,
What we were doing,
And pretended.
We could not end it,
Even with all our weight
Behind it, and our hearts
Dragging in the mud.

So here, we bury another child
Who, for all our pain,
Could not endure
This world.


I no longer remember why I hated
My mother, such strong words
For pass-a-day disputes. She was a girl
Herself, and I, hers. What she knew
Of love and safety, to me, a long list
Of should-nots built on her mistakes.

On the coldest days, in snow,
She would wrap my hands and feet
In baggies under mittens,
Hoping to keep me dry with what she had.
We made do, so long,
Frozen in joy, snowflakes on our tongues.

I could not wear go-go boots
Or make up, and she warned me
About boys. I believed nothing
Of what she said, so learned
It on my own, she held
My broken heart, and stood me up
My own two feet all any woman
Needed, or could trust.

Now we are both old women.
The numbered years slip by,
like ice on plastic-wrapped hands.

It sears you, then melts.
You try to grab things,
Change them or just hold tight…
And they are gone.


key words: mother-daughter relationships, love, childhood, memory, regret, aging

Unborn, Day 28

Your replicating cells divide
my life. Books warns I may not
love you at first, but how not love
this ordinary magic
cells wild with separate lives?

Though you trespass here,
I welcome you. I succumbed to whims
that vanished with morning,
appeared on the crest of decisions
and stayed, wandering in the ark.

Tonight you grow as you will never
grow again. Like a lizard.
undifferentiated cells: leg and hand,
primitive heart and gills.
You are a menagerie of prehistoric
change and necessity.

All this day I have been sick
with the life of you, who are a stranger
to me, distant as Neptune,
mysterious as Juno, small nova
on my horizon, swelling
toward your hour.

July 1989

That Would Be singing

We had gone as far as the road
Could take us. We’d come to other forks,
Made up our minds, made do.

This place, though, we gave up
Our fancy machines and traveled
On by foot.

Sometimes, we still laughed,
Caught our breath at wonders
That came our way.
When we had to, we raised
Our voices to the wind
As if it might change direction.

While we had each other,
We were never lost. Even when night
Worried us, or we faltered.
We held each other steady.

But at this stopping point
The path is only wide enough
For one to go, one to follow.

I will take the light, you say,
Wait here, I will clear a way.
I can hear you sing
One old tune we both could carry.

Then silence, so I pick up
Where you left off.
The only way out
Is through. We will meet 
In the end.

Heart Failure

My heart surrendered.
Too many years beating for the wrong
Reasons–sure, got the blood going
Where it needed to be, kept the brain
On top of itself, all the billion cells
Cavorting in the dance of division.

But in all else, it failed,
the heart, failed to do duty
as eyes and ears, failed
to see what was in plain sight
failed to hear the cues,
or listen and know when to quit
the stage. It kept its hungry
longing alive, stuffed itself on whatever
felt good, no matter if it was right
or deadly–was not its place
to decide. It had a mind

all its own. It wanted
what it wanted. It took what it
could get. If it had to break
a thousand times into a million
pieces, it kept its steady drone.
Bam. Bam. Bam. Pulsing,
because once it started,
stopping felt like death.



January Drifts


We will not gather here again.
You slip through time, I stand
On a vacant shore. Your small boat
Catches waves, drifts, swells,
Whitecaps and breakers. We might once
Have toyed with these, or, toppled, righted.
Anymore, we are stranded. I haven’t arms
To keep you afloat. All our terrors,
Our worried minds, our loves–
We kick them off, like heavy shoes.
We tread, we huddle, we drift
So long we feel like creatures
Of the sea, hardly able to breathe.
The currents move so quick,
The horizon always shifts.


Where we lived, nothing blew over.
We kept our fingers to the air
and instruments around the house.
We kept our gizmos to the weather.
Even when it did not affect us,
we knew to be prepared.

We could see low clouds on night’s
horizon, we could hear wind
pounding across the woods. We felt
heavy rains lashing the roof.
We cowered in the shower.

We could let nothing go
unnoticed. We counted every cloud.
We always had our umbrellas
so the sun could not leave us blind.